Step Right Up: Blue-Eyed Hawk
“O Do Not Love Too Long” VIDEO PREMIERE & Interview with guitarist Alex Roth.
“Lauren had a book of Yeats poems with her and opened it up and started improvising around the poem ‘Under The Moon’, which later on became the title of our album and in there we found a line about a “blue-eyed hawk” which turned into our band name.”
— Alex Roth
Words: Mark Carry
Blue-Eyed Hawk is a London-based quartet consisting of members Lauren Kinsella (voice, synth); Laura Jurd (trumpet, keys); Alex Roth (guitar, effects) and Corrie Dick (drums, percussion).
Taking its name from a line in W.B. Yeats’s poem Under the Moon, Blue-Eyed Hawk is a co-operative quartet that brings a wide open improv sensibility to its melodic and richly textured original material. The band formed in 2011 and creates highly charged and emotive music that takes in rock, jazz, minimalist and electronic soundworlds. Blue-Eyed Hawk’s debut album ‘Under the Moon’ was produced by Polar Bear’s Tom Herbert and released in Autumn 2014 on the UK independent label Edition Records.
The video, directed by choreographer Katarzyna Witek, for the track “O Do Not Love Too Long”, a setting of the eponymous poem by W.B. Yeats off the debut album ‘Under The Moon’.
Interview with Alex Roth (Blue-Eyed Hawk).
Please discuss the formation of Blue-Eyed Hawk and how it all started? I love the sense of collaboration between each of its members.
Alex Roth: It is a very collaborative group. We got together about four years ago – around 2011 – and it was just a case of four people getting in a room playing some music together and realizing instantly that it worked somehow. To begin with we were improvising a lot together and enjoying the sound of that. It seemed straight away that it was different from things we were all doing elsewhere and therefore worth pursuing. And out of that we started playing more together; improvising more together; writing some things especially for that line-up and it just gathered momentum from there.
One of the things we were interested in from the start – in fact from the very first time we got together – was using poetry in an improvised setting. It was in the very first play we had together, Lauren had a book of Yeats poems with her and opened it up and started improvising around the poem ‘Under The Moon’, which later on became the title of our album and in there we found a line about a “blue-eyed hawk” which turned into our band name and we ended up using a further Yeats poem which is in this video, so that’s been a thread for us since the very beginning.
And with this year that marks Yeats’s 150th anniversary, it’s obvious that Yeats is very important to so many people’s lives.
AR: Yeah absolutely. Over here there’s been a big celebration; there was a series on BBC Radio 3 over here of different Irish – not always writers – figures talking about what Yeats meant to them. It was really interesting to hear just the different ways that his writing and work has been interpreted and built on over the last 150 years. As you say, it means a lot of things to a lot of different people and I think he’s a very accessible poet in a way that his language is most of the time quite direct and he’s often referring to quite universal themes and there is a lot of emotion in there which for us meant that it was really appealing to tap into thematically.
I love how the words are fused with the music so well together and there is that space for the music in the way the words are embedded in the music.
AR: This track, ‘O Do Not Love Too Long’ is mainly improvised actually. For the video, the director and producer Katarzyna Witek and Alex Morley, the editor have done a great job. There’s a funny story about the video actually which is it’s based not only on the Yeats poem but also on the Heaney poem ‘Valediction’. On the day that Seamus Heaney died in 2013 we were actually playing a concert as part of the BBC proms and the theme of this series of concerts was that they would pair up a band with a young poet and we happened to be paired with a poet called Charlotte Hickey who is from Northern Ireland and she’d known Heaney personally and for us as well Heaney was one of the first poets that I really resonated with and he means a lot to Lauren as well (the vocalist).
There was a really heavy atmosphere at this concert and since we only heard of his passing during our sound check, there was a spontaneous decision to play an improvised setting to his poem ‘Valediction’, the title of which was very fitting for the occasion. We used the semi-improvised arrangement that we normally do on the Yeats poem but we set the words of Heaney’s ‘Valediction’ and it was that performance that Katarzyna heard. When she listens to music she has a very visual response so I think it was at that time listening to the words and the music, she perhaps just saw what later on became this video essentially in her mind’s eye.
So it’s a combination of these two poems and thematically they’re quite linked I think but have different takes on that theme of love and loss and growing old. Although in the end she used the track based on the Yeats poem, I think symbolically the Heaney poem is actually equally important. We were trying to think of which track from our album would make more sense to use the video given the words in the Heaney poem are more directly linked to what Katarzyna wanted to do but the music comes from the track based on the Yeats poem so it’s this hybrid between the two really.
Performing as a quartet together must be special especially with the process of improvising and not knowing exactly what you’ll be doing next?
AR: We’ve gone through different phases of just how improvised the music really is and it varies from track to track: somewhere there’s not much improvisation at all and somewhere it’s all improvised. We try in our live show to leave some space for completely improvised tracks where there is no set form or anything. It’s always really exciting to have that balance, particularly live of stuff that we know really well now since we’ve been playing it before our album came out last year and really spontaneous music making. There’s just a lot of trust in the group I think, you know having been playing in the group for a few years now we know more or less how to make things work live even if it is completely improvised. And we’re all coming from a background of playing improvised music so we’re kind of building a language together I guess that can enable us to do that without any preparation as it were.
The other thing that’s been quite interesting over the last year or so is that since the album recording we’ve been adding new little bits and bobs to our live set-up so now Lauren’s playing bass synth live as well and Laura has got a keyboard with the trumpet and I use a lot of effects and things and Corrie has been building up on his percussion stuff so we’re giving ourselves more options to take music in different directions which is quite exciting. We’re in this phase now where we started out with a purely live approach and then when we took that into the studio we tried to adapt that to fit the studio setting basically. And rather than just capturing our live sound, we really tried to use the studio and then it’s been really interesting to translate that back to the live setting and figure out how can we do these things live that we did on the album.
And now we’ve gone full circle again and right now it’s about OK how can we write some new stuff with the set-up that has evolved after coming out of the studio and for me it’s really interesting to go through these cycles between a live sound and studio sound and see each time when it comes around how our band has developed and where we can take it next.
I suppose you have a lot of ideas for the next album already?
AR: Yeah possibly too many ideas. We’ve been discussing that recently because we feel like we’re going through the next phase of our cycle now where the second album is the next step obviously. One idea was to do with something that happened earlier on this year: there was another anniversary of a writer which was Kafka and earlier on this year we were asked by the BBC to write some new music based on Kafka for a radio session, which we did and we were quite happy about how it turned out. One idea was to maybe turn that into our second album but we’ve only been playing one or two of those tracks live so I’m not sure still whether that will be the next step. Another idea was to go to the studio and just improvise for a couple of days and then work with a producer to edit it and splice it together in post-production so that we’d have a really spontaneous, quite raw sound. But then obviously we’re all writing new music all the time as well so there’s going to be some new stuff. We haven’t really fixed that direction for the second album yet, I guess it’s still in a gestation period.
‘Under The Moon’ is out now on Edition Records.